Before there was Huxtaburger, there was Huxtable – which now has a shiny new cookbook
Before there was Huxtaburger there was Huxtable – the wine-focused haven of promiscuously globetrotting share plates that brought smart-casual dining to Smith Street back when things on the strip were still a little stabby. And now, three-and-a-half years on, Auckland-born chef Daniel Wilson has given up the goods on his sticky Korean ribs and chilli pickles in a glossy new cookbook, Huxtabook. It’s good, too, featuring Wilson’s America-meets-Europe-and-goes-backpacking-through-Asia dishes like po’ boys with Sriracha mayo and delicate quinoa, hazelnut salads, all set out in land, earth and sea sections, just like Huxtable’s menu.
Getting to this point isn’t something that just happened by accident or dumb luck. Wilson is a hospitality lifer, and the man has paid his dues.
“I reckon I was about 11 or 12 when I knew I wanted to be a chef,” he tells us. At 17, he moved to Michigan with his dad and cut his teeth at a culinary institute in Grand Rapids, learning the trade through intensive lab sessions. In 1998, a New Year’s trip to Melbourne was enough to make him pop back to New Zealand, sell his car, and settle here. He started work at mod-Oz restaurant Blake’s, only leaving again for a stint at Daniel’s in New York.
It was way back then that Wilson met his current business partners Dante Ruaine and Jeff Wong, but originally, he wasn’t going to be part of team Huxtable. “I was working at the Graham when Dante told me he and Jeff were opening a restaurant, but Matt Germanchis was going to be the chef. I was gutted. I told them to call me if it fell through, and a week later, they did.” The rest is delicious, busy history, in which the trio opened Huxtaburger and its offshoots, and Bill’s Bar (although they’re apparently turning it into more of a function space soon). So what next? “I love Japan’s food culture and design and I’d love to do a clean, simple, healthy restaurant – not quite a raw bar, but similar – only applied to other cuisines instead of Japanese,” says Wilson. “Not yet though – I’m too busy.” Damn straight.
Huxtabook, Hardie Grant Books, $49.95